Junior Gavin Lehenbauer contributed on the mound and at the plate to lead Monroe City over Unity 9-4 on Monday night.

Gavin Lehenbauer ran out of gas near the finish line, but the junior proved to have plenty in the tank Monday night to boost the Monroe City baseball team to its first win of the season.

Lehenbauer pitched six innings, scored a run and drove in another as Monroe City topped Unity 9-4.

“The team played great. I'm really proud of them. My defense backed me up, and we played pretty fundamental,” the victorious righty said. “I felt pretty good up there.” 

Unity (1-2) went into comeback mode during the seventh inning, when the Mustangs clawed for a pair of runs to cut their deficit to five before Lehenbauer could record an out.

Monroe City (1-1) coach Derek Vanlandingham then put the ball into the hands of junior Dawson Shively who used eight pitches to induce both a fly out and 4-6-3 double play to shut the door.

“You could tell that first batter in the seventh inning that his gas was out of the tank,” the first-year head coach said of Lehenbauer. “He was at 98 pitches, so I figured I'd get another guy in there that can give me a strike. Dawson came in and got one out, then got that double play, which was big and ended the game.” 

Unity took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when catcher Jarett Dunker hit a double to drive home teammate Luke Jansen. 

It didn't take long for the Monroe City offense to respond.

When the Panthers did, they did so with force.

Lehenbauer helped his own cause in the second inning. He drew a leadoff walk, snagged second and third and eventually barreled home on a wild pitch to score Monroe City's first run. 

“I saw the catcher didn't see the ball and I thought I would take advantage of it and try to get a cheap one,” Lehenbauer said. “It felt pretty good to get our first run, and I knew we were going to get a couple more.” 

Boy, was he ever right. 

Monroe City chased Unity starter Kaleb VeLeu out of the game in the third inning and pounded reliever Kody Gronewold for eight runs over the next 2 1/3 frames.

Brad Cheek made the most of a second chance to break the contest open in the third. With the bases loaded and one out, the Panthers backstop hit a catchable foul popup the Mustangs couldn't corral. Moments later, Cheek delivered a 2-RBI double that scored Jordan Bichsel and Shively to put Monroe City ahead 3-1. 

“That's a hard play for the catcher to make, but if the ball's dropped, you've got to make him pay for it,” Vanlandingham said. “That's what (Brad) did. He put solid contact and scored two runs and put us up 3-1, and we never looked back after that.” 

Senior Josh Underhill, one of six Panthers to reach base in the third, came around to score on an RBI single from junior Joshua Crook that gave Monroe City a 3-run advantage.

After Unity got a run back in the top of the fourth, Underhill took center stage yet again for the Monroe City offense, knocking in Bichsel and Ethan Lehenbauer with a two-out double. Gavin Lehenbauer then drove in Underhill to put the Panthers up 7-2. 

“Our guys are confident after tonight seeing what they can do if we put the ball in play,” said Vanlandingham, noting how his squad struck out only three times. “That's what we've been preaching the whole time.”

The Monroe City attack kept coming in the fifth, when freshman Konnor Bridgewater scored on an error and sophomore Lance Williams came home thanks to a bases-loaded hit by pitch. 

By the time Unity charged back with two runs in the final inning, the Panthers had built enough of a cushion that they never got too worried about the outcome.

The Panthers played without three regulars who were ineligible either because of academics or practice attendance, according to Vanlandingham.

The coach expects to have all hands on deck come the team's next game at 5 p.m. on Thursday at Knox County.

As for Monday night, the Panthers' only postgame priorities were celebrating their first win of 2017 and appreciating Gavin Lehenbauer, the horse they rode to get there.

Lehenbauer scattered 12 hits and three walks over his six innings while allowing four runs (two earned).

“Gavin didn't have to strike very many people out,” Vanlandingham said. “He was making good pitches and making his defense work, and our defense was real fundamental tonight making plays in the outfield and the infield. That's all we can ask from our guys.”

Monroe City 9, Unity 4

Unity             100 100 2  -- 4 12 4
Monroe City   013 320 X  -- 9  8 1

UNITY (1-2) — Kaleb VaLeu (L). Top hitter: Jarett Dunker 2-for-4 3 RBIs

MONROE CITY (1-1) — Gavin Lehenbauer (W). Top hitters: Jordan Bichsel 2-for-3 with 2 runs; Josh Underhill 2-for-3 with 2 runs and 3 RBIs